~ Bloom Again ~
Spring time has always given me so much joy. It's a time of renewal; a time where all the old and dead things of nature give way to the new, and the living. The harsh, bitter winds dissolve into the warm embrace of a summer breeze, and the snow gives way, little by little, to soft fresh grass and hundreds of budding flowers. Winter loses it's hold on life for awhile, and the earth seems to breathe again. Spring is the time when our flower garden, the one that Mama planted, reaches the peak of it's loveliness; the colors grow vibrant, the scent of a hundred different flowers rise to fill the air with their sweetness, and through it all I sit on the porch swing, soaking it in. It's funny what tiny little things can give a person such happiness. Even up to this present moment, as I listen to the robins sing in a near-by willow tree, with Ashlyn in my lap and my books in a stack on the porch step by our feet, I have felt renewal within myself whenever I see God breathing life back into His creation. Lizzy was like that too. I wish she could see how well her lilac bushes are blooming, and how carefully I have tended them for her.
* * *
I don't remember Mama very well. As time has passed, my memories of her have faded into dream-like visions of long past joys and sorrows, and I can no longer distinctly remember her face. I know that she loved us girls very much, and I remember her clear, sparkling blue eyes and how they shone whenever she smiled at me. She was the one who planted the flower garden in the back, and there where many times when Lizzy and I would help her tend the many different plants and flowers that grew there. Mama had a patch of wild roses that Dad had given her, growing in the back corner by the fence, and they were her favorite. But Lizzy's favorites where the lilacs. Finally, one year, Mama helped Lizzy plant her very own lilac bushes along one side of the porch. She told me that as soon as I was ready to take care of a plant by myself, she would help me place one in the garden too. But she never did plant it with me.
I loved her very much, but time has a way of blurring even the most treasured memories, and I was only seven when she died. Ashlynn had been born only a couple months before that time, so she doesn't remember anything, but Lizzy was fourteen, and she took it very hard. There where many times I would find her crying under her lilac bushes with Mama's picture in her hands. When that happened, I would do my best to leave as quietly as possible, but if she saw me there, she would take me in her arms and hug me like she would never let go. Dad did his best to be there for us, but it was Lizzy who stood up and took Mama's place in my life. She made it her responsibility to care for Ashlyn and me; to make sure I finished my school work and that we were all properly fed, and got to bed on time; all the things Mama would have done. But most importantly, she awakened in me that same love for nature that Mama had held so dear.
* * *
Lizzy was the very meaning of joy to me. Everything she ever did radiated a sense of welcoming friendship, laughter, and comfort to anyone who might need it. I loved her with all of my heart, and did my best to be just like her. However, it was always a struggle for me to love Ashlyn the same way that I loved Lizzy. Deep within me was a subconscious feeling that Ashlyn was somehow at fault for Mama's death, because she had been born so soon before it all happened. Mama was too weak to fight a disease so soon after giving birth. I knew it wasn't Ashlyn's fault, but all the same, I felt a resistance to her that I couldn't explain. Ashlyn herself never sensed this frustration that I had, and loved me almost as much as I loved Lizzy. Ashlyn is a very bubbly little girl; easily excited, talkative, and hyper more often than not. She was always following me everywhere, and that only added to my annoyance. But if I ever lost my temper and scolded or raised my voice at her, Lizzy was there in a flash, gently rebuking me for forgetting how young Ash still was and losing my patience. Then she'd laugh and tell me that she understood. Ashlyn could be a pain, she knew; it's just that that wasn't any good reason for either of us to raise our voices. Afterward, she always gave me another hug to let me know she wasn't angry, and go off to continue whatever she had been doing. But I always felt guilty. I hated to disappoint Lizzy in any way, and it felt so unfair to me that Ash was always the source of my problems. I knew Lizzy was right, but instead of letting my frustration go, I stuffed it down and let it smolder away inside of me. I knew it wasn't right to feel this way; it wasn't Ashlyn's fault that Mama had died. Mama herself would be hurt if she knew how I felt. But I didn't know how to love Ashlyn. I didn't want to love Ashlyn. When Mama had died, something inside of me seemed to have died too.
* * *
One Spring day I saw Lizzy bring a handful of dying lilacs inside and place them on the kitchen table. Lizzy was always tending the garden now that Mama was gone, and she had cut these from her own lilac bushes. They where wilted, but even so, they filled the room with their scent, and their lovely color complemented the design of the table cloth on which they had been set. I don't know why such a simple image forced it's way so deeply into my memory, but since then I've always remembered the way those flowers continued to pour out their blessing of beauty and joy to anyone in that room, even as they lay wilted on the table.
* * *
Life went on. I got a job, and worked hard at my studies. I had begun writing some of my own music on the piano, and was becoming more and more skilled at it. My life was good, and in my free time I liked to sit outside in garden with my books and a warm cup of tea. I was satisfied with myself as a whole, and had grown accustomed to life as it had become; structured and reliable. Unchanging.
And then my world came crashing down; the second time. Lizzy had gone to pick Ashlyn up from school, and I had stayed home. I was reading on the porch when I heard sirens wailing in the distance. I didn't pay attention at first, but as they got closer I started to wonder what was going on. At the end of our street where the neighborhood opens onto the main road, I could see lights flashing. A feeling of dread washed over me, and I hurriedly put down my books and started in that direction. I went slowly at first, then I was running towards the intersection as fast as I could.
There was our car. It had been hit on one side, and flipped over into a ditch, where the ceiling had been flattened to a frightening extreme. I couldn't see Lizzy anywhere, and Ashlyn was being hurried into the ambulance. She was crying, obviously in shock, and frantically calling my name as loud as she could.
“Hope! Hope! Hope!”
* * *
After that, everything became a blur. Somehow I ended up at the hospital, holding on to Ashlyn's hand and telling her over and over again that it was going to be alright. But my own heart ached with fear. Not everything was all right. Lizzy and Ash had been settled in different rooms. I went back and forth between them, and I knew now that Lizzy was not going to make it. I had seen her face, and already, the life had begun to drain from it.
The last time I saw Lizzy, she was lying on her back in the hospital bed, looking up at the ceiling with half closed eyes as though she was struggling to stay awake. When I came in, she seemed to wake up, and she smiled at me with what strength she had left. She must have been in pain, but even still, she had that open, friendly countenance that I loved so much about her. Anyone who walked into that room could immediately sense that this was a safe place, and that they were welcome. A sudden memory of wilting lilacs flashed before my eyes, and became blurred by tears.
I was holding Lizzy's hand when she died.
* * *
There are no words to describe the grief I felt. So I will not try to describe it. It is enough to know that it was terrible, and the scar of it still throbs in my heart whenever I think of Lizzy. Yet, unlike Mama's death, the loss of Lizzy did not kill something inside of me. Instead it rekindled something in my heart that I had thought dead long ago. I do not know exactly what that something was, or how to describe it; something began to bloom within me, and all life became precious to me.
I ran back to Ashlyn's room, suddenly terrified that I might lose her too. I looked at her like I had never seen her before, soaking in everything about her. I took her hand. At my touch, she woke up and smiled at me. She looked so much like Lizzy. Her dirty-blond hair was pushed from her forehead, and her smile revealed her dimples. She was beautiful, and she was mine, and I was never, never, never going to let go of her. I kissed her and whispered, “I love you Ash, I love you so much. Don't forget that. I love you.”
* * *
That was five years ago. Ashlyn is twelve, and she is blooming into a beautiful young lady. We both study, work, and do everything two young girls would be expected to do, but in the Spring time when we are finished with our responsibilities, we like to sit on the porch swing and talk. Sometimes we just sit and listen to the birds sing, or watch the bees fly from flower to flower in the garden. I take care of it now; Mama's roses still bloom every year, and the lilac bushes have grown beautifully, producing more flowers every spring. Now Ashlyn and I have our own plants along with Lizzy's. I planted Irises, and Ash chose Morning Glories. I get great joy out of seeing it all in bloom, and I hold onto it as long as I can.
When Mama died, something in me died too. I think, now, that that something was hope. I couldn't hold on to anything for fear that I would lose it. But Lizzy made it bloom again by showing me the joy in life, even as she lost her hold on it. I know now that I still can not hold on to everything; that the old will die and the new will take it's place. But I see the joy that is to be had in life, and I treasure it as it comes. Ashlyn has become such a blessing to me, and I shudder to think that I almost lost that blessing. Spring is a time that rekindles that hope for me now as God breathes life into the earth and everything on it it. I feel that life, that joy, that hope, swell within myself, pounding through my veins and bursting out in laughter like a spring bubbling up from the ground.
The lilacs are blooming. And I remember Lizzy.